Losing it: What Happens to Mobile CRM when You Lose Your Mobile Phone?

The saying goes, don’t sweat the small stuff. However, as we continue to make our hand-held devices smaller and smaller, the chances that we’ll lose something small with a lot of important data housed on it become larger and larger. I have miniature panic attacks about where my iPhone is two or three times a day (usually it’s in my pocket), but a lost device with company information induces panic on a company-wide scale.

That said, if you’re going to provide mobile CRM in an effective way, you’re going to have to have some data resident on the device. Allowing your users to work offline is critical; a mobile CRM application that is only usable when people are within cell-tower distance will be an even bigger adoption nightmare than a CRM system tethered to a desktop.

So, there are your two challenges: maintaining security, and having access to data offline.

I like what SugarCRM’s doing with these two considerations. First off, in Sugar Mobile Plus, which has a client that stores a copy of all CRM data (including custom fields) locally on the remote device. Additions to the data are stored until the device is connected back to the Internet, when it’s synced with the main CRM system.

Ah, you say! Now you’ve set yourself up for that dreaded device loss, and along with it your data! Well, no software is going to help users hang on to their phones 100 percent of the time, although there might be other, less high tech solutions (epoxy? Bungy cords? Staples?). Face it – they’re going to go missing every so often. The Sugar solution is neat in that, while the sales person is weeping unconsolably about the loss of his device, your IT guy can simply remotely wipe all customer data from the missing device. I like to envision a big, red button that the IT manager pushes, but in reality it’s a bit more pedestrian of a process.

Of course, the person who lost his handheld phone has to KNOW he lost it, and has to call back to the administrator to zap out the customer data. However, once a sales rep or a field service person has adopted mobile CRM, it seems likely they’ll realize their device has gone AWOL very quickly and make the call to IT (on a borrowed phone, I presume).

Things like this make me really excited about what CRM will look like in the future – and it won’t be a sales pro slouching back to the office for two hours of data entry at the end of the day (or simply becoming a CRM non-adopter). It will be people in the field using their handheld devices to make the use of CRM a routine part of the way they work, in the field or in the office. Mobility is going to boost adoption, when it’s done right, and it’s going to become ubiquitous. And, I suspect, as social CRM becomes a standard part of the CRM mix, it’s going to interact with mobile in new and interesting ways.

Now, if they can just figure out a way for your mobile phone to autonomously seek you out when you lose it. How hard could it be to create a combination iPhone/Roomba?






8 thoughts on “Losing it: What Happens to Mobile CRM when You Lose Your Mobile Phone?

  1. Cbucholtz – I read this blog on pretty much a daily basis as the articles are very good and thought provoking. I rarely disagree with the points within them but I think I may have found a statement that could cause some discussion – we all love a good discussion.

    I dont see why a mobile CRM client needs to store any information locally, in fact, I think storing information locally in any CRM application is a dangerous thing…..i’m referring obviously to client/server based systems with mobile laptop users as well.

    Our CRM software is browser based. You are still accessing a secure server on the network, but you do this via a web browser. This means all data is held on the server and that you can access your CRM tool on any device with access to the internet and a browser (Obviously using your network credentials).

    Myself and most of the mobile users of Gold-Vision CRM actually use the full version on smart phones, but there is a mobile client that is resized to suit a smart phone screen and not as pretty to make accessing it quicker. This can be used over a standard non 3G connection.

    I am based in the UK (As are the majority of our customers) so 3G access isn’t great, but its very rare to not have a GPRS connection, and on the odd occassion that you dont, you can normally walk 10 yards and find a full signal.

    Compare that 10 yard walk with the potential of not realising you’ve lost a smart phone with company data on it, or realising and not having access to a phone because your driving up the motorway when you realise its lost, and I think Mobile CRM applications should avoid storing data locally at all costs.

    I recently lost my iPhone in the back of a taxi in London and did not realise until I walked out of the meeting I was attending approx. 3 hours later. I dread to think the damage that could have been done had my phone had customer data on it.

  2. As I read this post, I thought about the scandal from last week regarding mobile phone security. In the case of the unscrupulous tactics employed by News of the World reporters and leadership, the swindling of personal information happened in a focused, illegal manner.

    When someone inadvertently loses a smartphone, however, the risk begins if it gets in the hands of a potentially unethical person.

    The first case is an example hacking into servers, and the second case is loss of data on the mobile device. While many agree with Martin that data should not reside on devices, there are instances when local data and applications makes sense as suggested in the post

    Securing mobile phones will prevent applications and data that reside on mobile devices (CRM, ERP, corporate email, address book, etc.). Even real-time communication, such as what takes place at the highest levels of government and enterprise can be protected through “mobile virtualization.” Sensitive data and applications can be protected inside a secure cell and cannot be accessed by hackers or malware attacks. Open Kernel Labs provides this through SecureIT Mobile Government and SecureIT Mobile Enterprise. Mobile virtualization also enables dual persona smartphones – separating personal from business – no need to carry two phones. The same protection applies. Hackers cannot harm the business data. Additionally, a kill pill can erase local data when a device is lost

    http://www.ok-labs.com/ for information on how to secure mobile devices (tablets, smartphones) with SecureIT Mobile Enterprise and SecureIT Mobile Governent

    • Goodness, I wish it were so. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I can tell you that there are numerous places where AT&T just doesn’t come through – perhaps because of signal traffic, perhaps because of insufficient build-out of the network, or whatever reason. If there truly was no need for an off-line capability for mobile CRM, it would have simplified all vendors’ lives immeasurably over the last five years. Alas, that need remains…

  3. I feel sorry for people in the San Fransisco Bay area then, as I cant believe their are still places in the west where mobile coverage is zero. In the UK we do have plenty of areas where the signal is weak or even nill, but you are literally a short walk away from a good signal.

    Despite the above, it is true that adoption of mobile CRM has been very slow and I’m afraid I cant offer any pearls of wisdom as to why, or even hazard an educated guess. I use my mobile CRM all the time, mostly via GPRS accessing our CRM server in our datacentre. I know a large majority of our clients have users accessing CRM via the mobile client. We even have one client who bought a dozen or so iPad’s to make this even easier for their sales guys to use.

    May I be so bold as to say the following:

    Maybe other vendors are too worried about locally storing data, and all the security issues that come with that, when they should be offering a simple access point into the main CRM server via a smart phone.

  4. Security is, without any doubt, one of the major concern areas for mobility adoption by large enterprises. As companies find the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) concept an increasingly convenient option to reduce costs and increase usability, the risks associated with having corporate data on the devices are only going to increase. Mobile CRM applications are no exception to this rule, especially considering that it may not be possible for people to always remain connected to the corporate network while pulling up customer data or keying in the same. And, as stated in your blog itself, a cell tower that is nearby cannot always be guaranteed. While this definitely poses a challenge to the companies running these applications, it is also a great opportunity for people who may want to devise solutions to get around this problem.

    Remote wipeout of data from lost devices along with encrypted storage, SIM authentication, mobile VPN, forced lockouts etc. are some common security measures provided by leading mobility solution providers. However it handles only the device piece of the puzzle. The carrier’s wireless channel and the network connection between the wireless web servers and the back-end transaction servers are the other two points of security vulnerability, though not as risk prone as the device itself. For the former the companies may increasingly look at dedicated paths and encrypted links for sensitive information. For the latter, fortunately, we already have adequate tools for server authentication, admission and configuration management – through secure firewalls – to make that link adequately robust.

    Security, in our view, is one of the four areas that are going to shape and shake the mobility market in the near future.
    Please visit our team blog to read more about mobility trends – http://www.infosysblogs.com/oracle/2011/07/enterprise_mobility_trends_to.html#more

  5. Martin Leonard said “Our CRM software is browser based. You are still accessing a secure server on the network, but you do this via a web browser. This means all data is held on the server and that you can access your CRM tool on any device with access to the internet and a browser (Obviously using your network credentials).”

    Big problem could be if the browser stores access passwords to the CRM.

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